Pols call for ‘firepot’ recall after tragic accidents

06/18/2011 9:13 AM |

Federal lawmakers are calling for an immediate recall of all forms of liquid firepot fuel in the wake of the tragic accident involving 14-year-old Michael Hubbard of RIverhead, who suffered serious injuries following a citronella gel candle explosion Memorial Day weekend.

U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), as well as state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and state Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham), have sent letters to the Consumer Products Safety Commission to mandate the recall while the agency evaluates the safety of the products.

The lawmakers also urged the commission to investigate manufacturer’s labels that stated the product was safe.

Michael was hospitalized at Stony Brook University Medical Center after pouring fuel into an already lit gel candle. Two young men were injured in a similar accident in Manhattan while using the same product, which is marketed as FireGel. When lit, the liquid, jelly-like fuel burns blue or clear, with almost no smoke, making it difficult to determine whether or not there is a flame.

FireGel manufacturer, Napa Home & Garden, asked its retailer Bed Bath & Beyond to pull the product from shelves following questions and a story from The New York Times.

The commission has said that it is investigating the incident, though it did not mandate a recall of similar products

“Basically, the design of these products means we have napalm for sale in the garden aisle,” said Mr. Bishop said in release issued Friday.  “I fear that the upcoming barbecue season could lead to more tragedies unless [these products] stay off shelves pending a full investigation.  At that time, we can consider if there is any safe way for this product to be sold or marketed.”

County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) is also sponsoring a bill to ban the sale of fuel gels in Suffolk County.

“There is no question that these products are dangerous and are a threat to the health and safety of county residents,” Mr. Romains said in a statement. “They should not be on the market. We cannot allow another family to suffer the same devastation as Michael’s.”

Scott Wolfson, the director of public affairs for the CPSC said that the agency has not yet recalled the product, though it has issued a nationwide warning. “We have seen the Congressman’s letter and we want to be responsive to it,” he said. “But we feel like our first obligation is to make sure all consumers know of these dangers, going into this weekend and beyond. A traditional fire extinguisher or water may not put out [a fire caused by the gel.]“

Mr. Bishop and Ms. Gillibrand’s letter to the commission is listed below.

We are writing today to express our concerns regarding the safety risks associated with using liquid fuel and ceramic firepots.  In recent weeks, many Americans have suffered serious injury while using these products and we ask that you recall all forms of liquid firepot fuel until a thorough investigation as to the safety of these liquid fuels can be completed.

It is our understanding that the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has recently undertaken an investigation into the safety risks associated with the illuminating fuel produced by Napa Home and Garden and this product has been recalled from stores at the request of the manufacturer.  We are concerned that other brands of pourable fuels may cause similar injury to users and ask that this investigation be expanded to include the larger category of all liquid firepot fuels.  While this investigation is underway, we ask that all forms of liquid firepot fuels be removed from the marketplace to prevent any further injuries to consumers.

Additionally, we are very concerned by the lack of oversight into product labeling in this case.  The liquid firepot fuel manufactured by Napa Home and Garden contained a label asserting that the “product was safe for use”.  According to the product manufacturer, the word “safe” was intended to reference the fact that the product did not produce harmful emissions.  This type of label was misleading to consumers and we ask for greater accountability and oversight for product labels for these types of products.

We appreciate the swift action of the CPSC in beginning this investigation and look forward to working with you to safeguard consumers from these faulty products and prevent any further injuries.